Willie Simmons was twice convicted of murder for strangling a woman in 1987 and causing another woman to suffocate in 1988. Two Missouri juries called for the death penalty, but his sentence was later reduced to life in prison.
Even so, he feared that secondhand smoke from other inmates could kill him. Simmons, 53, now known Ecclesiastical Denzel Washington, has asthma.
In court filings that go back a decade, he insisted on his right to breathe unencumbered. Last week, he won a court judgment ordering Missouri state prisons to be smoke-free by April 1.
The judgment also prohibits the sale and procession of tobacco products, except for “authorized religious purposes.” It applies “inside correctional buildings and on the grounds inside the correction perimeter” at 22 state correctional centers.
“This is a win ultimately for the people who work and live in Missouri’s correctional facilities,” said Phillip Zeeck, one of Washington’s attorneys, as the Associated Press reported.
Missouri’s prisons allow smoking in designated areas outside. Inmates also can buy tobacco products at prison canteens, Michael Foster, one of Washington’s attorney’s, told the Kansas City Star.
Although smoking is prohibited inside, the rule isn’t strictly enforced, correction officials acknowledged in court documents.
Foster said at a prison in Cameron, about 50 miles north of Kansas City, Washington was paired with heavy smokers against his doctor’s orders. During a trial last spring, Washington’s lawyers offered evidence showing hundreds of inmates written up for smoking violations.
Prison officials haven’t said how they will enact the new order.
Washington was 24 years old when he was first convicted of murdering Leanora McClendon, 20, and Cheri R. Johnson, 29, both of St. Louis. Prosecutors characterized him as a ruthless killer, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s trial coverage.
Johnson was struck repeatedly with a barbell and then strangled with a man’s tie 1987. McLendon, who had been bound and a belt wrapped around her neck, suffocated on a rag stuffed down her throat in 1988, according to court documents.
Washington’s convictions were overturned on a technicality, but he was found guilty again when the cases were retried.
More from Morning Mix: